The Niqab Debate

Credit// The New York Times

By: Ashwini Selvakumaran


Two glimmering slits of brown poke out under a thin scrap of fabric, contrasting the blackness of her veil. Eyes glaze over her moving figure, eyes not glimmering but burning, curiosity and ignorance tracing every move. In the uproar of various jeers and protests, a flutter of long eyelashes is near impossible to miss under such intense scrutiny.

And to think - all this outrage, over a piece of cloth.

Unfortunately, this situation has become the bleak new norm for Muslim women in and around Canada. The issue revolving around the cultural and social stigma of the niqab has been one aggressively debated for months. Outspoken Canadians have voiced their concerns that the niqab, ‘fails’ to fit into our array of Canadian values.

So the question arises. What constitutes as a ‘Canadian value’?

First of all, in addressing this argument, is important to discern the purpose of the niqab itself. The niqab is a religious head covering worn by some Muslim women, revealing only the eyes. Various members of society have expressed difficulty in understanding this practice. Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice rooted in a culture portrayed as anti-women?

Choices, choices, choices. As in various other religions, wearing an affiliated garment of your faith is a choice. Rarely worn for religious obligations, most Muslim women choose to wear the niqab to display a personal respect for their religion. By no means is it mandatory.

Recognizing this, yet still wanting to throw away one’s entitlement to expression under the concern that it’s a sinkhole of bigotry and oppression, is ridiculous. Under this perspective, would there not be serious implications of hanging a cross around one’s neck, or wearing a kippah in public? Yet various members of these particular faiths, walk away unscathed, perfectly fine.

Religious expression is by no means a barrier, nor should it be. As stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.

Alas, this issue does not echo religious concerns, rather societal welfare. To truly understand the meaning of ‘Canadian values’ it is important to examine our societal views. It is easy, to target one for being different. When we consistently exaggerate issues targeting minority groups in Canada under a harsh light, we elicit the labels of ‘attackers’ and ‘terrorists’. It is then somehow justified, to close off our mind to the needs of our neighbours at large, equating their simple religious views to an issue that harms the general community.

Multiculturalism is the only word that comes to mind. How can we so proudly claim that we live in a multicultural world, if display constant ignorance towards our neighbours? Wearing a niqab does not interfere in any substantive way with how our community goes about in their daily lives. With a relatively minor impact on the lives of the vast majority of Canadians, perpetuating this situation carries no beneficial outcome to either party involved.

In its essence, this issue boils down to upholding the rights of an individual. It establishes the epitome of Canadian values, which is that every person is a unique individual worthy of respect. With this in mind, we must take greater care to protect the rights of Canadians as a whole ensuring we do not alienate anyone’s wider needs. To preserve the values of the Charter, Canadians should not tolerate blatant religious discrimination. We are all equal under the law, and should accept a woman’s decision to wear her niqab as her own.

The choice is not yours, it’s hers.

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